The earliest recorded homecomings took place in the late nineteenth century at alumni football games. It often marked the first football game of the fall season. However, it is disputed as to which school held the first modern homecoming. Such organizations as the NCAA and games like Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy credit the University of Missouri as holding the first homecoming.
In an article entitled “Homecoming Football Games to Turn 100 Years Old,” Jack Vincent claims the tradition began in 1911 when the athletic director of the University of Missouri encouraged all alumni to “come home” for the game between the college and it’s oldest rival, the University of Kansas, a rivalry that at the time had been going on for twenty years.
As the years went on and football became more and more popular, homecoming games became more extravagant. In many places homecoming is marked by parades and dances, the latter of which is viewed as having the same degree of importance as prom. While at PHS there is a king and queen for band and football with attendants, other schools have princes and princesses and dukes and duchesses.
Colleges seem to have more extravagant homecomings than high schools. At the University of Texas students exchange homecoming mums in the form of corsages that are not your average small flowers; they are large, long, and often adorned with ribbons as well. This seems to apply to the entire state of Texas as well, which is well known for its extraordinarily large homecoming corsages.
Of course, homecoming also holds a prominent role in the films of the 20th century. Besides prom, it seems to be the go-to dance of movies centered around the teenage experience, with particular emphasis often being placed on the fight to become king or queen.
In many ways, that is why homecoming has become such a large part of American culture. It is part of what many view as the American experience, which many people associate with the distinct American image formed in the mid-20th century, in the period after World War II but before the Vietnam War. This was also the time when football truly replaced baseball as the most popular sport in the country.
Since homecoming has become such an ingrained and beloved part of American culture and imagery, it is unlikely the tradition will ever go out of style. Instead, it will remain a mainstay of America life, a reminder of a century gone past, partly frozen in time through our remembrance of it.
For more information on the 2019 Homecoming celebration, see this article.